My paintbrush waltzed on the sketchpad, as my lips curled into a smile. A fantasy forest that I pictured in my head was coming to life. A long wavy stream stretched from the far beyond, zooming towards the bottom as the sparkling, azure water flow gingerly. Majestic, violet trees lined unevenly as they encompass the entire jungle with a looming shadow. Enormous mushrooms, painted ruby red with splotches of golden dots, glowed dimly under the dark shade. Birds of Paradise flew gracefully between the ancient trees, singing their melody harmoniously. I grinned, wishing that everyone who saw my work felt the same as I did. But that is impossible of course, because I never let anyone see my artwork. I feared that they will judge, and throw cruel criticism. I don’t care if constructive criticism helps you improve, I am very sensitive and paranoid to what others have to say. My greatest passion will forever remain a secret, save for a few people who are dearest to me.
“Lizaaaaa! Dinner is ready!” Shrieked Mum, in the most high-pitched voice possible. I ceased from my desk, stretched a bit and headed towards the kitchen reluctantly. Dinner has lately become something I do no not look forward to. Thirty minutes of hearing my parents’ lecture on why I should become a doctor is the last thing I need. However, when I reached there, my face lit up as I saw my favourite dish served piping hot. The amazing, the succulent, the mouth-watering fish and chips! A bowl of crisp golden fries rests beside a tray of of Mum’s legendary deep fried dory, a side of colourful salad and the cherry on top, home-made tangy tartar sauce. I stared at the delightful spread, eyes hungry for a bite and took a seat next to my younger brother.
“Wow Mum, best Friday Feast ever!” I squealed in excitement as I take a piece of fish, some fries and poured tartar sauce on the dory. Friday Feast is a thing in my family where Mum would cook a special dinner for us. “Well, I do know how much you love my fish and chips,” she beamed with pride, “now say grace and let’s dig in!”
As I quietly enjoyed the food, Dad suddenly said “Haliza”, he called, eyes piercing my soul, “I have something important to tell you”. “Yes Dad?” I asked taking a glass of apple juice to my lips. “Look, since you did so well in your finals last year, your mother and I decided to sign you up for Newton’s Scholarship for a medical course in the United Kingdom”, he announced. Alarmed, I spat out my drink right on my plate. But at that moment, I didn’t care. They did something without me knowing again, and I was infuriated. “What? The UK? Since when did I agreed to become a doctor?” I demanded, my voice slightly higher than what was normally allowed. But I didn’t care. Enough is enough. My parents have been pressuring me to be a doctor ever since I started talking when I was two. You get to save lives, they would say. You’ll make us proud, they would add.
“Well darling, it’d be such a waste of your gift if you become a...a…a cartoonist… I honestly think you should be a doc-”, “NO!” I bellowed, cutting off my mother. I huffed, my pulse was racing and my cheeks were burning up. But inside, it was tearing me apart. I rarely raise my voice against my parents, but if they won’t listen, I have to be louder. “Who cares about my gift?! Don’t you want me to be happy?” I plead, eyes welling up. “Liza, we only want what’s best for you,” Dad said, his eyes are now concerned. “Lies”, I hissed, finally, a single tear rolled down my left cheek, warm and calming. I sat up hurriedly and ran towards my room them slammed it shut. The deafening sound vibrated throughout our entire bungalow.
I lay on my bed, my face covered by a soft pillow. I sobbed
Uncontrollably, my emotions a mess, my mind blaming my parents yet my heart frowned at myself. There, there Liza, It’ll be alright. I’m sure your parents understand, Inner Good spoke, her voice soothing as ever. Humph! If you ask me, I think your parents deserved it, Inner Evil grumbled. “Well, no one asked you, Evil”, I snapped.
Inner Good and Inner Evil are the two voices in my head. As an introvert, I had talked to myself since I was very little. Eventually, these ‘conversations’ spawned these two and have been with me since. I once wondered if I was mentally sick but since no harm was done to me or others, I decided to keep them. Good represents everything that is…well, good. Patience, tolerance, love, kindness, forgiveness and laughter. She was the one I listened to the most, since there will be less horrible consequences. Evil or as I like to call her Evie, portrays my negative feelings of anger, hatred, disgust disappointment and sadness. Though I do not listen to her much often, Evie is the only one who would always take my side and never blame me for anything, which was not surprising since she is also my selfishness.
I cried and cried what seemed to be a waterfall until the warmth of the tears drifted me to sleep.
The next morning, I woke up early to wash my swollen face. The icy cold water snapped me back to reality. I got in Dad’s car and he drove my brother and me to school.
No words were spoken in the car.
In the classroom, I scribbled on my Biology notebook, not paying attention to the teacher. I was still mad at my parents, but Inner Good had been telling me to apologize all morning. I was getting sick of it. Out of the blue, the teacher called out on me. “Liza! Did you have a fun trip to dreamland?” she asked sarcastically. My classmates snickered and chuckled. I blushed a beet red. “Uh, sorry Mrs. Noor”, I said while scratching my scarf. “Ha-ha, you are not getting off the hook that easily young lady”, she laughed. “Come up here and draw a labelled diagram of the heart please”, she ordered, still with that million-watt smile.
I slowly walked up to the whiteboard and started drawing. First, the left atrium and ventricle, with the aorta and pulmonary vein. Then I finished the right side and looked at Mrs. Noor. “Will that suffice?” Mrs. Noor gaped in awe, the heart was perfectly accurate with subtle details that few would notice, and I did it all under two minutes. “Amazing! I didn’t know you could draw so well, Liza”, she praised, both hands clasped together. “Ah... well... I do like Biology”, I said. “Then are you aiming to be a doctor?” she asked. I laughed. “Nah, I like drawing more.”
At that exact moment, a student came barging in, panting loudly. “Haliza? Where is Haliza?” the student asked. “That’s me!” I waved. “What happened?”
“Liza- your father…..he- he had an accident!”
I dashed through the crowd of patients in Queen Anne Hospital, ignoring the looks I get from the medical staff and visitors. My shoes squeaked as I make a sharp turn to the right, arriving in front of my Dad’s room. I drew a deep breath. My heart ached so badly I had to clutch my chest. I gulped. The door opened slowly, and what I saw made my heart sink to the bottom of my feet.
Laying on the hospital bed was my father, weak and lifeless. His pale skin showed his hollow cheeks. His veins were connected to the beeping machines that were keeping him alive. His bandaged head was stained with red-sickening blood. Then I saw Mum. She almost looked as pale as my father. She sat beside my father, eyes filled with worry and exhaustion. Her swollen eyes and red face clearly indicated that she was just crying a few minutes ago. She seemed so dazed and lost that she only noticed me when I touched her shoulder. “Gasp! Oh, Liza…” she held my face, gingerly stroking my cold cheeks. “Sniff…I’m sorry I couldn’t come get you at school, it’s just that the staff had been holding me back that I-”, “Mum” I said. “It’s fine. I’m fine. How’s Dad?” I asked. “You father… Hasn’t woken up since I got here….” she trailed off.
“.… I see”, I choked on those words. Don’t cry Liza. Be strong, Inner Good tried to calm me down. Evil stayed silent. Suddenly, the door opened to reveal my little brother, Taufiq, holding a nurse’s hand. His eyes widened with shock and came rushing to Dad. Behind them was a doctor. He was tall and fit, with dark hair combed neatly to his side. His eyes were sharp and focused, like Dad’s. The doctor stood at the end of the bed and said “The results are in, ma’am”, he turned to my mother. “I am afraid his head was injured badly because of a wild branch that rammed into the front window, bashed his head. It seemed the air bag was not functioning at the time. Fortunately, his body is fine, thanks to the seat belt. On top of that, When we put him through a PET scan, it’s seems he has lost a huge portion of his memories.”
My jaw hung when he finished explaining. “Dad...” I whispered. Then, as if he heard my call, Dad’s fingers started moving. He groaned loudly and his eyes opened. Everyone in the room was shocked. “Yusoff! Oh, thank God!” Mum shrieked tearfully. Dad looked at Mum, but his face was not glad, instead it was confused. “Wh-who are you?” He asked. Mum gasped, her eyes filled with terror and she burst into tears. “…Why is she crying?” he asked, and turned to my direction. “Uhh, do you remember me?” I wanted to say Dad but that would’ve been unbearable. “Liza…Haliza, my daughter…” he said still with that dazed expression. Mum looked at me, her brows furrowed. I shrugged. “Yeah Dad, It’s me”, I managed to smile weakly.
“Excuse me, but I need to conduct some more tests on your husband”, the doctor spoke, turning towards my mother. We all left the room except for the nurse.
We stood outside awkwardly. I looked at Mum, and she was covering her face with her palms. Instead of wasting time I took out my sketchbook and marker and start drawing. For some odd reason, the dance of a marker never fails to calm my nerves. I drew my Mum, staring off into the distance. Her perfectly curved nose bounces of the light from a sunset, her eyes twinkle in the twilight. The marker glides on the paper, forming her flowing shiny ebony hair fluttered in the wind. I smiled, satisfied.
The doctor came out and he told us we could go and see Dad. Mum held my brother and me by hand inside the room. Dad sat reclining on the bed, his eyes in a trance. I walked up to him and showed my drawing of Mum for the first time in my life. I wanted to do something, anything to make him feel better. I didn’t anticipate what he was about to say next.
“…Linda? Linda! Where is my wife?!” Dad grabbed me by the shoulder and shook me furiously. “Gah! Dad! She’s right there!” I tried pointing at my mother. Mum stood there speechless. She took Dad’s arms and hugged him amorously. She then turned to me and then the doctor. “Hmm I’ve never seen such speedy recovery before…” the doctor whom I noticed is called Dr. Din, was puzzled by the miraculous event. “Liza, may I look at your drawing please?” Mum asked carefully. I hesitated at first but since everyone seemed so eager, I resigned. Mum then took my sketchbook and examined it intently. “Darling…..its beautiful”, she finally said. I could see the pride in her eyes and I blushed. I thanked her. Next, Dr. Din looked at the drawing too, as did the nurse and Taufiq. They all praised the artwork, even the doctor smiled for the first time.
“Hey sis… Do you think you can draw me and show it to Dad?” He asked, his round and beady eyes pleaded. How can I say no? I sat beside Mum and drew a simple portrait of Taufiq and finished in about five minutes. I showed it to Dad, silently praying that he would remember his own son. “Taufiq…Taufiq come here”, Dad called weakly. “I’m here Dad, I’m here”, Taufiq sobbed on his legs. All four of us embraced in a big, warm hug that I wished would last for eternity. “Do you remember where you live or work?” asked Dr. Din after a long silence. “No, I do not”, Dad replied, his brows furrowed, attempting to jog his memory but to avail, nothing. “I think I can help”, I chimed in. “No Liza, It’s already late, how about you come tomorrow after school when I pick you up?” Mum suggested.
I grinned. “Sounds good to me”.
The next day, I rushed into the ward as soon as I got to Queen Anne’s Hospital. When I arrived there, the receptionist told me visiting hours was in two hours. My shoulders slumped. I did my homework at one of the gardens there until I got bored. I decided to visit the children’s ward after asking permission from Mum. She decided to go to the cafeteria
The children at the ward were sitting together in the resting area where a boy my age seemed to be reading them a story. The boy had messy brunette hair, like the colour of autumn leaves. He wore a white shirt and seemed to be engrossed in his narrating that he doesn’t notice me. I sat down at the back and pulled out my sketchbook. I listened to his story, Jack and the Beanstalk, when Jack was climbing towards the Castle of Giants. His voice was deep and soothing. I illustrated the scene, the enormous beanstalk stretched towards the sky, swaying gently with the breeze. Jack struggled to climb, but he was not giving up.
Suddenly, a voice shrieked, “Whoa! That looks amazing miss!” a little boy was crouching, leaning above my sketchbook. “Ah…Thanks”, I smiled. Pretty soon, more kids started flocking around me, eagerly watching every stroke of my marker. “Ahem…Looks like I’ve been shunned...” a voice said. I looked up and saw the boy. His brown eyes gazed into mine, a smile on his lips. I looked away, suddenly shy. “The name’s Hafiz, what might yours be?” he asked. “…It’s Haliza”, I answered. “That’s a really nice drawing you made there”, he said. “Thanks”, I said, slightly blushing. “Say, could you do me a favour?” he asked. I shrugged. “Depends”. He asked me if I could help in his story telling session by drawing a few of the scenes from his book. I agreed, after he promised to treat me to some waffles after. We played with the kids until visiting hours for the adult ward arrived.
“I have to go. Goodbye guys”, I waved happily to the children. I turned towards Hafiz and said goodbye to him too. He seemed a tad bit sad to see me go but after I assured him that I’ll be coming there for the next few days, his face lit up instantly. “I guess I’ll see you then”, he smiled and waved me goodbye.
“Hi Dad”, I greeted him warmly. Mum was already there sitting beside him. “Hello Liza”, he beamed. He seemed so much better since the last I saw him. His skin has more colour and his eyes looked more energetic. I sat beside him, opposite of Mum and showed him my latest drawing. This time, it was a picture of Dad’s office tower, looming over other buildings. He was starting to remember things. His work, his family and friends. I was glad I could help. Who knew that a pen and paper could save someone’s life? I wish my parents could see that but I’ll let it go for a while.
This continued for a few days. The daily visit to the children’s ward, the conversations with Hafiz, and of course, Dad’s progressing recovery.
On a fine Saturday afternoon, I was sitting in Dad’s ward, drawing as usual. My Mum entered shortly after with two cups of coffee in her hands. I finished my latest drawing and took a hot sip from my cappuccino and placed it on my desk. I drew a deep breath and showed my work to Dad. He studied it carefully. He sat there, silent for a long minute. I thought that I might triggered an awful memory but it couldn’t be. All I drew was a scene of our last Friday Feast, Mum’s fish and chips, on our dining table. We were laughing in that picture. “Ah…That might be a little inaccurate ha-ha”, I laughed awkwardly. I hoped he doesn’t remember the fight we had. “I remember now”, he said suddenly. I jumped. “This…was our last meal together wasn’t it? And then I…I-ouch!” He pressed against his wound, biting back his pain. “When I left you for school, all I could think about was you...How you were so upset that we decided your future for you…” he said. “That’s why I only remembered your name when I woke up”, he continued. “I…I’m so sorry Liza”, he finally apologized.
I shook my head. “No Dad, it’s okay. When I found out that you had an accident, I thought I’d lose you forever….And that I would regret for the rest of my life that I didn’t apologized.” I confessed. My eyes were starting to get watery. “Liza, your mother and I talked about it, and we decided to let you pursue your passion”, he announced. I gasped. I looked at my mother and she nodded. “I’ve seen what you did with the kids at the children’s ward. You made them happy. You eased their pain and most importantly, you saved your father. We are so proud to have a daughter like you”, she explained, a wide smile on her face.
Touched, I hugged them both tightly with tears rolling down my cheeks.
“Thank you”, I whispered. We all drowned in emotion that day.
Dad was discharged from the hospital the next day. I said my goodbyes to the sick children and Hafiz too. Turns out, he will be attending my school next week. I pushed Dad’s wheelchair into our house and was greeted by Taufiq. During dinner, Dad talked about how he was seen fit to work by his boss and decided to start working next week. We all dined in peace that evening. Mum and Dad supported my decision to go pursue fine arts or animation in university once I graduate from high school. I sighed, relieved to finally feel like my dream was coming true. They finally understood how much drawing meant to me and that happiness is the true reward, rather than riches or fame.
Morning came, and I woke up early as a bird. It has been a week since Dad’s return. I sat at my desk and turned on my laptop. Suddenly a memory of Hafiz and the hospital kids came flashing in my mind. I sigh. I have not seen them since then. I accessed my email, and was surprised to have an email from a college in my inbox. To my bewilderment, the email was a letter from the Malaysian Institute of Art! It read-
You are now a candidate for a chance to win a full scholarship to MIA!
Please click the link below for more details!
All candidates are chosen by a letter of recommendation from our deans.
A letter of recommendation? I thought to myself. But who could have known? I scrolled down and saw the note. “Remember to thank your scouters! Your dean is…” I read aloud and gulped, suddenly blushing.
“Hafiz bin Hanif”.